Frasier Crane’s sense of ethics is a constant focal point of Frasier‘s comedy, one that often provides an easy avenue into Frasier‘s favorite type of humor (particularly in later seasons), the farce. For Frasier, nothing provides more anxiety than an ethical dilemma – and more often than not, he and Niles would end up in some ridiculous situation trying to preserve their self-righteous “status” and “class” in the face of comedic extremes. “Selling Out” doesn’t quite reach those familiar levels of ludicrous behavior; however, “Selling Out” neatly establishes the blueprint for future episodes to follow – and also introduces us all to Bebe Glazer, one of the show’s great counterparts to Frasier (and though they hardly ever interact, Niles).
Bebe Glazer, the English-accented agent that stumbles upon Frasier in the opening scenes, is arguably his direct opposite; lacking in control and any sense of morality, Bebe’s smoking and lack of mental filter make her the perfect foil for the put-together, naive Dr. Crane. Playing to his superficial sense of self, Bebe introduces herself and coaxes Frasier into accepting a series of lucrative, increasingly silly endorsements on his radio show. Initially, Frasier hesitates, spouting off the mouth about his morals, and how he won’t peddle products on his show, no matter what they may offer him; when it turns out those offers include lucrative paychecks, then it’s off to the races for Frasier and the cigarette-puffing demon he’s suddenly allowed to manage his career.
Much of “Selling Out” plays like muted versions of later episodes; later seasons would’ve subjected us to an extremely exaggerated version of Bebe, and most certainly a scene with Frasier Crane wearing a peanut suit and being angry on set (Frasier would often wear ridiculous costumes on both Frasier and Cheers; his clown suit on Cheers remains a personal favorite). More importantly, the episode is much more concerned with maintaining Frasier’s integrity than later episodes, which would throw him into the comedic wind just for the hell of it, giggling as he flailed around, undercutting much of the terrific character exploration the best of Frasier‘s farcical episodes would employ (like the earliest ‘dinner party’ episodes, at least until Niles and that damn dead bird).
“Selling Out” plays somewhere in the middle; it doesn’t take long for Frasier to give up what he believes in – but the episode also stops short of abandoning reality, only giving us a mild dose of Bebe – which are the best kind; watching her manipulate Frasier is always a treat, no matter how gullible he is – and skipping past the day on set (save for one awkwardly blocked scene) to show us the completed version of the commercial at the end, with ‘Dr. Joyce’ instead of Frasier in the peanut suit. It takes a very muted approach to Frasier’s downfall, pausing to show Frasier’s slow moral decay; and almost entirely without Niles, who makes a brief appearance around the 18-minute mark to remind Frasier that he sold out the minute he became a radio psychiatrist.
Ultimately, it’s the lack of Niles that sells the episode a bit short; as a new, unfamiliar entity, there’s only so much Bebe can do to challenge (and enlighten) Frasier throughout the episode. She works as a fun bit of color added to the world, but the psychological self-examinations the brothers often force on each other are missing, and make the episode feel a little light, especially in the light of the last few episodes, which have gone to such great lengths to strengthen the emotional bonds between the Crane family (and by proxy, with the audience). Niles’ presence is important in establishing Frasier’s internal conflicts throughout the series; we only get a taste of his reactions here, and they’re completely contained to belittling Frasier for his choices, something that works a little better spread through the episode, and tempered by Niles’ genuine insight into the mind of his brother.
It doesn’t make “Selling Out” a bad episode, per se; it’s just a little lifeless with the ideas and subjects it presents, a bit of a letdown for an episode that appeared ready to twist and contort Frasier Crane into endlessly uncomfortable places. Though some of the later episodes of its kind would tip the scales a little too far in this direction, “Selling Out” objectively lacks commitment, both to its climatic moments and to its characters, opting for light-hearted banter rather than focused, meaningful farce. Frasier’s ethics are a ripe field for both comedic and dramatic opportunities; “Selling Out” is only interested in the former, and takes a rather superficial approach to how it tells this particular story. Obviously nothing could match the tenor of “Beloved Infidel,” but it’s still a bit of a disappointment especially knowing the brand of insanity Bebe could bring to the table in later, more gratifying appearances.
– Boy, Bulldog’s racist radio ad is not as funny as people thought it was in 1993.
– Niles, referencing The Seven Year Itch: “You’re like that actress who let everyone look up her skirt in that movie, then complained that nobody took her seriously as an actress… have you seen that movie? Maris and I rented that video – I don’t mind telling you we pushed our beds together that night. And that was no mean feat; as you know, her room is across the hall.”
-Bebe: “I am an agent, not a pimp.”
– Frasier describes Daphne like an artichoke, after Daphne tells a story about how she starred on the British children’s program Mind Your Knickers.
– The opening gag where Frasier throws Eddie’s tennis ball off the balcony is a riot; unfortunately, the next funny moment in the episode comes 15 minutes later, with Niles’ aforementioned speech.
– By the same token, Frasier and Marty discussing Hollywood Squares to close out the episode is a wonderful touch.
[Photo via NBC]